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Posted at 07:00 AM ET, 05/02/2011

A new approach to education: Tutoring with a smirk

D.C. is overrun with wonks and writers and their book parties. But this evening, a book party in West End is no run-of-the-mill affair. The celebration will honor some elementary-school writers and the enlightening new book to which they contributed.
(Courtesy of 826DC)

“I Live Real Close To Where You Used To Live: Kid’s Letters to Michelle Obama (and Sasha, Malia & Bo) (McSweeney’s, 2010) is a collection from students across the country.

Some of the contributors will be honored this evening at a public book signing at the Francis Stevens Educational Campus in D.C.

Some of my favorite excerpts of the letters to the First Lady::

“Please send money. I love princesses.”

“Try to keep drugs off the streets. Robots may be able to help you.”

“My parents are divorced. I am having trouble moving on. Do you have any tips? I am confused and sad.”

“A smelly foot should be a foot that has a nose on it. Do you have a nose on your foot?”

“You are eating 100 percent healthy. Can you put my dad in a job?”

The book was a joint effort by the students and the volunteers who tutor them through non-profit centers, called 826, which offer disadvantaged kids free tutoring, writing workshops and literary outlets.

826DC is composed of a group of mostly twenty-somethings who work out of a storefront in Columbia Heights.

The center itself is a little hard to find. To get there, you have to walk through “The Museum of Unnatural History,”decorated with dangling dinosaur bones and solar systems.

Its unconventional entrance is thanks to Gen X literary lion Dave Eggers., who co-founded the eight 826 centers.

As the story goes, when Eggers tried to open the first center, located at 826 Valencia Street in San Francisco, he was told the building was zoned for retail andmust have some kind of store. Eggers complied by opening a pirate shop. He sells peg legs and eye patches.

Every center thereafter came with a mandate to be named 826 and be fronted by quirky retail.

Joe Callahan, the 826DC director and a longtime acquaintance of mine, said his “museum” shop draws curious foot traffic. And the more people who learn about 826, the better.

Callahan oversees a tiny staff that includes a deputy, a handful of unpaid interns and dozens of active volunteers. They teach hundreds of local kids the basics of story, plot and narrative and they are always looking for more help.

Besides nationwide efforts like the “Letters” book, volunteers also help students publish their own smaller books to take home. These are real, bound publications that look and feel as serious as they’re intended to be. Each one deserve its own party.

By  |  07:00 AM ET, 05/02/2011

 
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